10,000 tourists ordered to evacuate Ocracoke Island due to power outage

CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (WAVY/AP) — An estimated 10,000 tourists face a noon deadline Friday for evacuating an island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks after a construction company caused a power outage, leaving people searching for a place to eat, stay cool or to resume interrupted vacations.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency Thursday for Ocracoke and Hatteras islands due to the massive outage.

“This declaration will allow us to move much-needed resources through the state as quickly as possible to help restore the power to Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands,” Cooper said.

The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said in a news release that PCL Construction told the utility it had driven a steel casing into an electric transmission cable while working on the new Bonner Bridge on the state’s coast around 4:30 Thursday morning, inadvertently cutting off power to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.

PCL issued a statement Thursday night, which said in part, “We are actively working with NCDOT and Cape Hatteras Electric to determine the cause of the issue while assisting in restoring power as quickly as possible.”

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Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for all visitors on Ocracoke Island effective at 5 p.m. Thursday. Hyde County public information officer Donnie Shumate said the main concern was for their safety, adding that officials want to get visitors off the island by noon Friday.

No one will be allowed onto the island unless they can prove residency, officials said.

Ferries are currently running on normal schedules. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division says priority boarding is suspended for all vehicles leaving Ocracoke. Tolls will be waived for ferry trips between Ocracoke and Cedar Island or Swan Quarter.

CHEC said it is working to assess the extent of the damage and plan for the repair. Spokeswoman Laura Ertle said Roanoke, Virginia-based New River Electrical Corp., which erected the cable on the original Bonner Bridge in 1995, is coming to the coast to dig up the cable to assess the damage.

Repairs could take days to weeks, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to fix the issue.

Officials said about 9,000 customers are without power on the two islands — about 7,700 on Hatteras and another 1,300 on Ocracoke.

CHEC is currently providing temporary power to Buxton, Frisco and part of Hatteras Village by diesel generators. The cooperative tweeted Friday morning that three additional portable generators arrived at the Waves substation, while another one went to Avon.

Tideland Electric says an attempt to run the Ocracoke generator on Thursday wasn’t successful and resulted in damage that makes it inoperable. Three mobile generators were sent to the island Friday to get the island circuits started.

Tideland posted to Facebook Friday morning that crews made headway with the smallest of the three generators the company will be using to provide power. The generator powers hows in the lighthouse area and was energized around 3:30 a.m.

Once the generators are online, CHEC will begin rolling blackouts. The cooperative says this will only be possible if residents TURN OFF their air conditioning and minimize other electrical usages to conserve energy.

Residents are also being asked to shut off all non-essential breakers, and to limit the use of refrigerators and fans.

The Dare County Water Department has issued a water conservation alert for Hatteras Island customers. Residents and visitors are asked to take special measures to conserve water as much as possible because water production capacity is diminished due to the power outage. The water is still safe to drink.

To reduce the risk of fire during a power outage, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns instead of candles. Remember that portable generators should only be used outdoors.

This outage comes during peak tourist season, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day.

Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke from Exeter, New Hampshire, with a friend, but had to cut her trip short and head north to Elizabeth City. She said two restaurants on Ocracoke are using generators to stay open, but the motel she booked for her stay closed after its generator exploded minutes after it was started.

“There’s a lot of hot, sweaty people here,” Lazure said, adding that she tried to book a motel further up the North Carolina coast, only to find they were either sold out or asking as much as $500 a night.

“This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it’s one of my favorite places in the world,” she said. “I’m a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but, till next time.”

Ertle sympathized with people inconvenienced by the outage.

“We know that people are spending a lot of money to come down here and they look forward to their vacation on Hatteras Island every year,” she said. “We know that they’re getting frustrated, but we just really appreciate their patience.”

The Frisco Campground is closed through Friday and the Ocracoke Campground will be closed until the county’s evacuation order is lifted.

The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department will be open to the public as a cooling and charging station starting Friday at 8:00 a.m. Medical personnel will be on site to help treat any heat-related illness.

CHEC and Tideland Electric are providing periodic updates on their Facebook pages. You can also text “Join Hatteras Power” to 51664 to receive updates from Dare County Emergency Management.

The Associated Press and CBS North Carolina contributed to this report.

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